ST. PETERSBURG — The last time the Rays saw the Dodgers, Los Angeles was celebrating its victory in the 2020 World Series in Arlington, Texas, the neutral site amid severe pandemic restrictions.
Friday, they will meet again, with the Rays in possession of the best record (37-15) in the American League and the Dodgers the second-best (31-20, percentage points behind Atlanta) in the National League. It will be L.A.’s first visit to Tropicana Field since 2019 and just its fifth overall.
How big a deal it is depends on whom you ask.
To Rays infielder Taylor Walls, it’s nothing special.
“I don’t know, they’re just another team, I guess,” he said. “I honestly forgot we played them (this weekend) until you just mentioned it. We just show up every day, look at the task at hand, look at the scouting report and try to put together a plan to be successful that day. And that’s pretty much it.
“We don’t really put too much thought into exactly who we’re playing or the hype around it or what the possibilities may be in the future.”
To outfielder Randy Arozarena, who had a breakout performance during the 2020 postseason, it’s a reminder of a missed opportunity.
“I had a pretty good Series,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro, “but I wanted the World Series ring. I wanted to win it.”
Plus, Arozarena pointed out, “it’s a very different team.”
“2020 was 2020 and it’s in the past, but this is year 2023,” he said. “We’re trying to get to the playoffs and we think we can do it, and (want to) play a good series against them.”
To Rays manager Kevin Cash — despite the six-game loss and scrutiny of his decision to take out starter Blake Snell in Game 6 — it’s a chance to look back and smile at the highlights, including the wild Game 4 win sparked by Brett Phillips.
“Great memories,” Cash said. “A lot of fun. Obviously, we came up short, but really appreciated that, looking back how unique that 2020 postseason was, getting to the World Series. Proud of that, to be a part of that team. And I’m sure it will be talked about over this weekend with (the Dodgers) coming in.”
Bullpen shuffle, continued
The Rays continued their bullpen shuffle, recalling Calvin Faucher from Triple-A and activating left-hander Jake Diekman from the paternity list.
To make room, reliever Ben Heller and infielder Vidal Brujan, who were called up Wednesday, were optioned back to Durham.
Faucher made the opening-day roster but was sent down April 30 (after compiling a 6.43 ERA in eight games, allowing 16 hits and six walks in 14 innings) to get work in bullpen sessions refining what Cash called “stupid good” stuff. Faucher pitched in only three games for the Bulls, allowing three hits and three walks over 4-2/3 innings. Thursday, he worked a one-walk eighth.
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“It’s still a work in progress,” Cash said before the game. “He can really help us. We’ve just got to find a way to get him in the zone a little bit more consistently. But his stuff fits really well with the back end of our bullpen .... his two breaking balls that he throws, and the fastball.”
Brujan was brought up as a hedge given uncertainty over the availability of corner infielder Yandy Diaz due to a family matter. Diaz was back with the team Thursday and “totally available” if needed, Cash said.
Diekman returned after going home to Nebraska for the birth of a daughter on Monday. He had a rough outing Thursday, coming in for the ninth with a 6-1 lead and allowing two one-out singles and a walk to create a save situation that Colin Poche, after a bases-loaded walk and a sacrifice fly, converted.
Lefty Jalen Beeks will be the opener Friday, with right-hander Cooper Criswell expected to work bulk innings. … The Rays are the first team with two seven-steal games in the same season since the 1995 Astros. … As the Rays try to improve and stabilize their bullpen, they’ve benefited from four seven-inning starts (two each by Shane McClanahan and Zach Eflin) over their last seven games. … Eflin is 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA in six starts at the Trop. ... Attendance was 10,736 Thursday, for a four-game total of 40,198.
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